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In Re Roger B.

OPINION FILED MARCH 18, 1981.

IN RE ROGER B., APPELLANT (MORGAN M. FINLEY, CIRCUIT CLERK, APPELLEE).


Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Joseph Schneider, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The circuit court of Cook County dismissed the amended petition of plaintiff, Roger B., which sought a judgment declaring section 18 of the Adoption Act (Section) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 40, par. 1522) unconstitutional. That statute places adoption records and original birth records under seal. The appellate court, in a two-to-one decision, affirmed. 85 Ill. App.3d 1064.

Plaintiff argues before this court that the Section is invalid in that it (1) infringes upon a fundamental right, (2) creates a suspect classification, in violation of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, and (3) violates plaintiff's right to receive information.

The facts are uncontradicted. Plaintiff, who was born in 1949, filed an amended petition in the circuit court, asserting that his status as an adult adoptee who had feeling of inadequacy and uncertainty as to his background permitted access to his adoption records. Alternatively, plaintiff alleged that the Section is unconstitutional. At the hearing, plaintiff testified that he had been searching for his biological family for three years. Plaintiff regarded himself as "emotionally, physically, and financially comfortable." He testified that his search was not based on any psychiatric or medical need. Rather, the search emanated from plaintiff's desire to know "information which pertains to [him] as a person." The trial court upheld the validity of the statute. It also found that the statute requires a showing of good cause, which plaintiff failed to establish. The appellate court affirmed, upholding the constitutionality of the Section. The court also held that adulthood, in and of itself, does not constitute good cause to allow access to sealed adoption records.

The Section provides in pertinent part:

"Upon motion of any party to an adoption proceeding the court shall, or upon the court's own motion the court may, order that the file relating to such proceeding shall be impounded by the clerk of the court and shall be opened for examination only upon specific order of the court, which order shall name the person or persons who are to be permitted to examine such file." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 40, par. 1522.)

A companion statute, sections 17(2)(a) and 17(4) of the Vital Records Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 111 1/2, par. 73-17), provides that, after an adoption, the original birth certificate shall be sealed from inspection except upon court order.

Neither party disputes the trial court's finding that the statutory scheme allows the records to be unsealed upon a showing of good cause. The statute, unlike those of several other States (e.g., New York Dom. Rel. Law sec. 114 (McKinney 1977)), does not explicitly provide a good-cause standard. However, the legislature has given the court authority to issue an order providing access to the records. Although we find no Illinois cases interpreting the standard to be applied, we agree that the discretion conferred by the statute was intended to be exercised upon a showing of good cause.

Plaintiff contends that the right to know his own identity is a fundamental right. He argues that the Section infringes upon this right without serving a compelling State interest, thereby violating the equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution. Plaintiff maintains that the right to determine one's natural identity finds its basis under one's right to privacy. He relies on several Supreme Court cases involving familial relationships, rights of family privacy, and freedom to marry and reproduce: Roe v. Wade (1973), 410 U.S. 113, 35 L.Ed.2d 147, 93 S.Ct. 705 (woman's right to terminate her pregnancy); Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), 405 U.S. 438, 31 L.Ed.2d 349, 92 S.Ct. 1029 (matters involving contraception); Loving v. Virginia (1967), 388 U.S. 1, 18 L.Ed.2d 1010, 87 S.Ct. 1817 (freedom to marry); Prince v. Massachusetts (1944), 321 U.S. 158, 88 L.Ed. 645, 64 S.Ct. 438 (matters involving child rearing); Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson (1942), 316 U.S. 535, 86 L.Ed. 1655, 62 S.Ct. 1110 (the right to procreate).

These cases concern the most intimate areas of personal and marital privacy. The Supreme Court has been very hesitant in expanding the list of fundamental rights. (San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez (1973), 411 U.S. 1, 29-33, 36 L.Ed.2d 16, 40-43, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1294-97.) In San Antonio, the Supreme Court, holding that the right to education is not a fundamental right, stated, "It is not the province of this Court to create substantive constitutional rights in the name of guaranteeing equal protection of the laws." (411 U.S. 1, 33, 36 L.Ed.2d 16, 43, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1297.) The court indicated that the key to discovery if a right is fundamental "lies in assessing whether there is a right [that is] explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution." (411 U.S. 1, 33-34, 36 L.Ed.2d 16, 43, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1297; see Dandridge v. Williams (1970), 397 U.S. 471, 485, 25 L.Ed.2d 491, 502, 90 S.Ct. 1153, 1161 (the recognition of the fact that the administration of public welfare assistance involves the most basic economic needs of impoverished human beings did not render it a fundamental right).) We have found no case holding that the right of an adoptee to determine his genealogical origin is explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. Several courts>, however, have found that the right asserted here is not a fundamental right. Alma Society, Inc. v. Mellon (2d Cir. 1979), 601 F.2d 1225, 1231-33; Application of Maples (Mo. 1978), 563 S.W.2d 760, 762-64; Mills v. Atlantic City Department of Vital Statistics (1977), 148 N.J. Super. 302, 309-10, 372 A.2d 646, 650.

In Alma Society, Inc. v. Mellon, the plaintiff adoptees similarly claimed that a statute allowing the sealing of adoption records, unless good cause is shown, violated their fundamental right to "personhood." The court upheld the statute, concluding that the right to unseal birth records does not come within any recognized category of privacy. After examining two Supreme Court cases, Quilloin v. Walcott (1978), 434 U.S. 246, 54 L.Ed.2d 511, 98 S.Ct. 549 (upholding a Georgia statute allowing adoption of an illegitimate child without the father's consent), and Zablocki v. Redhail (1978), 434 U.S. 374, 54 L.Ed.2d 618, 98 S.Ct. 673 (invalidating a Wisconsin statute that interfered with the fundamental right to marry), the court concluded that those two cases illustrate the necessity of looking at the entire family relationship. The court held that the right of an adoptee to discover his identity should not be considered exclusive of the interests of other family members. Alma Society, Inc. v. Mellon (2d Cir. 1979), 601 F.2d 1225, 1233. Accord, Application of Maples (Mo. 1978), 563 S.W.2d 760, 763-64; Mills v. Atlantic City Department of Vital Statistics (1977), 148 N.J. Super. 302, 311-12, 372 A.2d 646, 651; In re Sage (1978), 21 Wn. App. 803, 806-07, 586 P.2d 1201, 1203.

Virtually every State statute affects important rights. (San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), 411 U.S. 1, 31, 36 L.Ed.2d 16, 41, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1295.) Although information regarding one's background, heritage, and heredity is important to one's identity, it does not fall within any heretofore delineated zone of privacy implicitly protected within the Bill of Rights. We believe the adoptee does not have a fundamental right to examine his adoption records.

Inasmuch as a fundamental right is not involved, the statute will be upheld if it is not arbitrary and bears a rational relationship to a legitimate State objective. Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas (1974), 416 U.S. 1, 8, 39 L.Ed.2d 797, 803, 94 S.Ct. 1536, 1540; San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), 411 U.S. 1, 17, 36 L.Ed.2d 16, 33, 93 ...


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